The Log Book
Tales of an Artist Afloat
I usually prefer to sketch from observation when recording my travels. I’m not a purist, but I always feel like actually being there adds a bit of atmosphere and immediacy that a study from a photo struggles to get. My watercolour of the lighthouse on Prevost Island is created from a photo though. I think I had a good reason- I passed there on my first solo adventure in Island Prism!
I’ve helmed Prism by myself many times when Jim’s been down below cooking or snoozing, But he’s always been nearby if I needed him. For my little trip to Prevost Island, I was totally by myself.
I’d dropped Jim off in the dinghy in a bay to the north. Normally I’d just wait patiently, babysitting the boat until he returned, but I was regretting not getting pictures of the lighthouse we’d passed earlier in the day. So I turned back to the south, into the wind. After half an hour or so I reached the point, using my phone to get some reference photos whilst keeping an eye out for boat traffic and rocks. Mission accomplished, Prism and I returned northward, letting the genoa carry us downwind. The journey only took me an hour, but it felt like a wonderful milestone!
Not far away, Montague Harbour was doing its best to pretend that it was in the tropics. The water was turquoise blue-green, and warm enough to conjure thoughts of swimming. My previous visits to the anchorage had been to shelter from gales, so it was wonderful to finally see it in its full glory. And, of course, do some sketching and try to capture those wonderful colours in watercolour!
Jim rowed his bike ashore to cycle across the island, and I decided to walk to Grey Point. The first part of the trail lead through a wetland full of shimmering dragonflies in shades of red and blue. The low land gave a great view across the point to the rest of the island. The trail gently rose and wound past a series of white shell beaches.
I found a driftwood log in the shade and sat down to draw the bay. A small flock of Canada geese paddled in the teal water and a woodpecker tapped the branches above my head, searching for insects. It didn’t seem bothered by my presence and kept pecking away as I painted. A few people joined me on the beach, spaced out along the sweep of crushed shells, and the souls who entered the water seemed very happy. I wish I’d brought my togs!
I thought I might return for a swim after lunch but Jim was eager to hoist the anchor, so I had to leave the waters untested. There was another treat in store for me, but first we needed to pass Dodd Narrows.
The Narrows are easy to pass at slack tide, and not too bad to go through providing we go with the current. They’re beautiful, and the maneuvering room lives up to their name- if you meet a boat coming in the opposite direction, things can get quite snug and slightly nerve-wracking.
We were going with the current, which meant a quick passage through the Narrows and a wild ride through the ropes and whirlpools on the other side. The turbulent waters tried to swing Prism around and I needed to be quick on the helm to keep a steady course. I’ve passed through Dodd Narrows a few times now; the tumult doesn’t scare me but it always keeps me on my toes!
We didn’t meet any incoming traffic, though a couple of power boats were hanging out just outside. They either decided against going through or were just enjoying the view- they raced off in the opposite direction once we emerged. I handed the helm over to Jim so I could sketch- I painted the ink drawing later. We’d officially left the Southern Gulf Islands and were approaching the Northern Group, which included a real gem- Jedediah Island.
Portland Island is one of those inspirational places that just begs to be sketched and painted. It’s small enough to walk around in a few hours, but my watercolours and I would have happily stayed for weeks.
We found a relatively sheltered anchorage, and were soon in the dinghy exploring. Our side of the anchorage featured wonderful little bays, fringed by arbutus trees. Seals and bald eagles loved to come and visit, and we sometimes found huge schools of herring.
It is relatively straightforward to clamber up the rocks and get ashore. There are no deer, sheep or goats on the island, so the forest floor is lush and covered in undergrowth. Towering Douglas firs create cool shade, and the shore is fringed with the twisting red-gold branches of arbutus. Their bark was peeling, revealing green sap-filled wood beneath. I’m trying to decide how to paint that wonderful colouring.
Before I make a new sketchbook for the summer, I decided to finish off an old Fabriano Venezia book which I started back in February. It’s good cartridge paper, but I’m not enjoying it for watercolour any more so I packed some 5 x 7 sheets of Strathmore 500 series. The paper is hot-press, takes a light wash very well and is lovely to draw on. I’m ending up with a series of little plein air paintings; I think they’ll make a lovely mini art collection!
Portland Island is now a provincial park, but used to be home to a thriving First Nations community. For thousands of years, people collected clams and oysters to eat. The shells were discarded in middens on the foreshore. Wave action crushed and shattered the shells, and over the millennia they built up into white shell beaches. Portland Island has a number of shell beaches, and in the sun they felt almost tropical.
I strolled along the beaches, followed twisting forest paths and rambled through patches of dry golden grass. At Arbutus Point, the trees gave way to a rocky reef where a large group of cormorants stood drying their wings after an afternoon of fishing. I’d intended to be back on the boat for lunch, but kept getting distracted by opportunities to stop and sketch!
I just had to hope that Jim didn’t eat ALL the food before I eventually returned! I ended up so engrossed in my wanderings that I missed the path that took me down to our little bay, and walked a few extra headlands before I realized my mistake! A bit of backtracking was needed until I found Jim and the zodiac waiting to row me back to Island Prism.
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.